Christmas is a time of celebration with family and friends, a time for us to appreciate the relationship we have with them. Although it is also a time too often marred by the onslaught of the same musical garbage; songs that usually accompany those dreadful adverts which companies and advertising execs frequently ram down our throats, cynically trying to get us to purchase their products for our loved ones. So if the sight of Justin Bieber shamelessly plugging Nintendo DS whilst gruesomely saddling up to an aging Mariah Carey, all the while accompanied by the abject sounds of their cash-in Christmas song, is enough to make you want to renounce your alliance to the Yuletide holiday, here are some alternative Christmas songs (both brilliant and terrible) for you to check out:
CKY – Santa Claus is Coming to Town/Kill You (1999): From its initial moments, this song appears to be a kitsch cover of the classic/dreadful (delete where applicable) Christmas song written by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie. Although, once we arrive at the chorus, it becomes apparent that this is not a faithful version of the original. Instead, it screams at the kids that ‘nobody’s getting fuck/nobody’s getting any toys’, whilst accompanied by grindingly distorted guitars and interjected by death threats from Santa himself. The song serves as the perfect antidote for any disgruntled employee who’s spent hours stuck listening to the same saccharine Christmas songs over and over and over again when working. Taken from the proto-Jackass film ‘CKY Vol. 1’ (lifting its name from the band itself), the video for it features the brother of CKY’s drummer and future Jackass alumnus Bam Margera dressed up as Santa Claus writing a naughty list of ‘Fuckers’ and hilarious beating up a man in a chicken suit. Perhaps a statement about capitalist society’s exploitation of the feathered creature for our Christmas dinners? Erm, probably not, it’s Jackass after all.
Bob Dylan – Must Be Santa (2009): Another cover here; this time a polka reworking of the Mitch Miller song, taken from one of Bob Dylan’s more bizarre experiments, his festive album Christmas in the Heart. Not only serving as a reminder of just how poorly Dylan’s vocals have plummeted in recent years (for a further example, see his performance of the classic ‘Maggie’s Farm’ with Mumford & Sons at the Grammy’s last year, which is disgraceful on so many levels, it baffles the mind), it also generally adds to the question of whether he does anything seriously these days or just having a massive laugh at our expense, completing some kind of a big piss-take political statement on the notion of idolization and artistic legacy. The video features Dylan looking (and sounding) like some kind of festive hobo, the one you see smeared in his own filth, drunkenly caterwauling some godawful Christmas carol in a frankly incomprehensible accent. However all royalties for the album went to various charities throughout the world, so it’s not all bad.
Run DMC – Christmas in Hollis (1987): Although this song had the potential to be so, very, very wrong as well, it succeeds for two reasons: Run DMC’s totally unashamed enthusiasm and that absolutely incredible beat (co-produced by Rick Rubin during his 80’s golden years). Sampling heavily from Clarence Carter’s equally brilliant ‘Back Door Santa, ‘Christmas in Hollis’ divides into a story from Run about his encounter with Santa and DMC’s portrait of a Christmas at home with his family. You have to admire the bravery of Run DMC for making this potentially career-murdering move, especially hot off the heels of their critically acclaimed album Raising Hell (1986). The song was also featured in one of the best alternative Christmas movies ever: Die Hard. So if it’s good enough for probably the coolest limo driver in film history, then it’s good enough for me.
R Kelly – Love Letter (Christmas Remix) (2010): Whilst the man, the legend that is R Kelly is no stranger to making incredible, original bettering remixes (one word: ignition), this is a great example of one that has a distinctive theme to it. Initially, the King of R&B paints a quaint picture of festival harmony: ‘Pour the wine/read the signs/Baby it’s Christmas time/you and me underneath this tree’. However, just as the song appears to be veering into a generic, MOR Christmas ballad, Kells launches suddenly into a cowbell led breakdown (yes, really), repeatedly singing ‘I am just a snowman/and I’m looking for a snowgirl’, before laying down a freestyle about ‘Christmas time in the hood’, where ‘Kells is having a Christmas party/And everybody’s VIP’. You really do have to admire the man’s ability to deftly switch between crooning about ‘sleigh bells…marshmallows, hot chocolate/fireplaces, you and me cuddling’ to instructing the listener to ‘dance, step, groove, whatever’. I’d like to see Bing Crosby attempt that shit.
Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler the Creator & Hodgy Beats – Fuck this Christmas (2010): An early demo from those OFWGKTA anti-heroes, the song features most of their frequently revisited themes: abandonment, iconoclasm, murder and rape. Laconically rapping over a sinister, appropriately sleigh-bell heavy beat, Earl talks about his uncomfortable experiences at home during Christmas time, ‘the place that I love….the place that I loath, the boy minus the father/equals boy minus the heart’, whilst on the other hand, Tyler tells a story of downing some egg nog, joyriding Santa’s sled and burning Christmas trees. All the while, Hodgy Beats pulls off some mock-soulful warbling, providing the song with some comic relief; singing that they’re ‘ain’t no gifts for you…no more cranberry sauce…no more fleeces for your caprices’, demanding back his gifts since they’re ‘for his grandmama’.
Titus Andronicus- Theme from “Cheers” (2010): Whilst not strictly a Christmas song, I felt Titus Andronicus’ glorious ode to ‘getting fucked up and pretending we’re all ok’ is completely appropriate to the Yuletide festivities. Easily one of the greatest drinking songs of all time, it has a slurring Patrick Stickles apologising to his ‘mama’ for ‘drinking again’ and confessing that ‘me and the old man got ourselves/a head start on the weekend’. It’s a pretty fitting image, since after all, who hasn’t got a bit too drunk and a bit too early on with their dad on Christmas day? The song careers through various moods and key changes like the town drunk stumbling out of a pub at closing time, all the while mirroring a real drinking session. It starts out with an eager shuffle (the anticipation at the beginning), followed by a charged and energetic punk bridge with Stickles calling for more whiskey (the brief triumph of drunkenness) before collapsing into a weary and resigned piano-driven meditation asking ‘what the fuck was it for anyway?’ (the overwhelming surge of depression that categorises alcohol), with it all suddenly halting as if the song itself has just passed out from the drinking. Expect some aspect of this song to be reverberated come the alcohol-fuelled tidings on the 25th.
John Denver- Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas (1975): From the sublime to ridiculous. Continuing with the Christmas tradition of excessive drinking, John Denver performs a similar feat to Bob Dylan in that we have no idea how funny or genuine this song is meant to be. The country & western songster recounts a hilarious (albeit unintentionally) story about his father collapsing into the Christmas tree after a night out, with Denver pleading against him not to ‘make his mama cry’ by getting too drunk. As if perpetuating a negatively stereotypical trailer trash image wasn’t bad enough, the song itself also sits in uncomfortably alongside the rest of Denver’s album Rocky Mountain Christmas. ‘Please Daddy…’ follows on directly from a cover of ‘Silver Bells’ and incongruously precedes a cornucopia of innocently pious Christmas carols like ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’. These are the kinds of mind-numbing levels of accidental irony that would inform the majority of Billy Ray Cyrus’ career 15 years later.
South Park’s Mr Garrison – Merry Fucking Christmas: The list seemed to be lacking an outright comedy song, so enter South Park. Trey Parker and Matt Stone have created some of the most outstanding comedy songs of recent times either in the show or in any of their films (‘Chef’s Chocolate Salty Balls’ ‘America, Fuck Yeah!’, ‘Pearl Harbour Sucked’, anything in South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut) but this is a particularly brilliant example of their irreverent humour. With the school teacher Mr Garrison offensively telling other cultures to ‘get off their heathen asses and fucking celebrate’ Christmas, it sharply satirises American exceptionalism, to which Christmas and Christianity play such a big part.
Jimmy Eat World – 12.23.95 (1999): Although the most obvious choice for Jimmy Eat World would be their cloying recording of Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’, this understated and beautiful piece from their 1999 masterpiece Clarity is definitely the better song. Featuring an array of unusual and off-beat musical devices, the backwards guitar loop that drives most of the song or the quirky keyboard line that essentially acts as the chorus, ‘23.12.95’ contains all the subtle brilliance that so much of Jimmy Eat World’s later work lacks. Whilst the title itself is some kind of hint, as it refers to the day two days before Christmas, it’s only when singer Jim Atkins briefly wishes his lover a merry one that it invites us to consider this in light of that holiday. And even though sincerity is often mocked in our cynical modern times, it’s often refreshing to find a song that pines for the feelings of all the other nauseatingly overplayed Christmas songs but avoids all their clichés.
Alternative Christmas Film – Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984): With the frequent onslaught of Christmas images, advertisements and songs, one can sometimes feel like the only way to rid ourselves of them all is to go on a mad killing spree. Having witnessed his parents murdered by a deranged hobo dressed like Santa, a young man decides to do just that. Declaring that he doesn’t ‘bring toys to naughty children, I punish them… severely!’, he goes on a murderous rampage on Christmas Day, slaughtering anybody he perceives to be ‘naughty’ like the twisted Santa he is, all the while repeating the word ‘punish’ over and over again. Offering a hilarious substitute to the irritatingly twee films of Richard Curtis, it also spawned an internet-famous sequel, containing that unbelievably amazing meme which everyone’s so familiar with today (if you haven’t seen it, just look up the words ‘garbage day’ and all will become clear).
Merry Christmas Everyone!